March 31, 2009

Arguing Safe Havens (Updated)

Pictured: A man who knows all about creating terrorist safe havens. And style.

There has been some good commentary and criticism accompanying my piece in the New Republic today. From the blog's comments section: construct a false dichotomy between physical space at the expense of virtual space. Nowhere in the strategy does it suggest that the COIN campaign is the beginning, middle and end of new US counter-terrorism strategy. Surely we can walk and chew gum at the same time, possibly while monitoring jihadist websites on our spiffy iPhones/Blackberries/etc.

And, as I keep banging on about, how exactly are we going to counter the jihadist narrative globally if we don't deliver something other than HE munitions to the population of that area? There's a demonstration effect that is critical on both sides of the Durand line, and more broadly throughout the world.

And from one of our smart interns:

I guess it boils down to where one stands in the Sageman v Hoffman Thunderdome:

I think you are vastly underplaying the critical role AQ central in NW Pakistan had in the various UK plots in recent years. The organization seems to be not inspiring these plots but directly catalyzing them through in-person training, know-how, etc. On close inspection, these do not appear to be the spontaneous acts of self-radicalized individuals. The AQ organization appears key to the formulation and execution of these plots.

From Thomas Hegghammer, who I mention in the article and who now blogs at Jihadica:

There are at least two more reasons why there ought to be a virtual dimension to the new AfPak strategy. First, the Pashto and Urdu-language part of the jihadi cyberspace is growing rapidly, and very few people are keeping track of it. Those who do rarely know the Arabic sites and vice-versa. No analyst I know has enough Arabic and Pashto to connect the dots (except Mustafa Abu al-Yazid).

Second, the Internet infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan is relatively poorly developed compared to the Arab world. This is very worrying, because it means that there is a huge untapped propaganda resource which will be exploited as the local infrastructure inevitably develops. This is unlike in much of the Arab world, where the Internet’s potential has been largely taken out by the local jihadi groups. We are seeing the signs of this trend in the spread, on the ground, of semi-virtual propaganda such as DVDs etc - see this brilliant ICG report for details.

More good comments and criticism come from Matt Yglesias and Jim Arkedis. I'll post more as it comes in. Thanks for the debate, gang!

Update: I can't believe I left out this fantastic response from Tim.